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Trotsky on anti-Nazi assassin Herschel Grynszpan

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We reprint Leon Trotsky writing about the events that inspired Tippett's Child of Our Time
Issue 1939
The arrest of Herschel Grynszpan, who was the subject of Tippett’s Child of Our Time
The arrest of Herschel Grynszpan, who was the subject of Tippett’s Child of Our Time

Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish man, assassinated a Nazi diplomat in the German embassy in Paris on 7 November 1938.

Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels used the event to launch attacks on Jews in Germany. About 100 Jewish people were killed and hundreds of synagogues, homes and businesses were destroyed in Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.

Stalin’s regime in Russia was looking to secure a non-aggression pact with Germany. That was agreed in 1939. Stalinist parties heaped abuse on Grynszpan.

Exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who had recently set up the Fourth International in opposition to Stalin, leapt to Grynszpan’s defence. He wrote the following article, For Grynszpan—Against the Fascist Pogrom Gangs and Stalinist Scoundrels.

IT IS clear to anyone slightly acquainted with political history that the policy of fascist gangsters directly and sometimes deliberately provokes terrorist attacks.

What is most astonishing is that so far there has been only one Grynszpan. Undoubtedly the number of such acts will increase.

We Marxists consider the tactic of individual terror inexpedient in the tasks of the liberating struggle of the proletariat as well as oppressed nationalities.

A single isolated hero cannot replace the masses.

But we understand only too clearly the inevitability of such convulsive acts of despair and vengeance. All our emotions, all our sympathies are with self-sacrificing avengers, even though they have been unable to discover the correct road.

Our sympathy becomes intensified because Grynszpan is not a political militant but an inexperienced youth, almost a boy, whose only counsellor was a feeling of indignation.

To tear Grynszpan out of the hands of capitalist justice, which is capable of chopping off his head to further serve capitalist diplomacy, is the elementary, immediate task of the international working class!

All the more revolting in its police stupidity and inexpressible violence is the campaign now being conducted against Grynszpan by command of the Kremlin in the international Stalinist press.

They attempt to depict him as an agent of the Nazis or an agent of the Trotskyists in alliance with the Nazis. Lumping into one heap the provocateur and his victim, the Stalinists ascribe to Grynszpan the intention of creating a favourable pretext for Hitler’s pogrom measures.

What can one say of these venal “journalists” who no longer have any vestiges of shame? Since the beginning of the socialist movement the bourgeoisie has at all times attributed all violent demonstrations of indignation, particularly terrorist acts, to the degenerating influence of Marxism. The Stalinists have inherited, here as elsewhere, the filthiest tradition of reaction.

The Fourth International may, justifiably, be proud that the reactionary scum, including the Stalinists, now automatically links with the Fourth International every bold action and protest, every indignant outburst, every blow at the executioners.

It was so, similarly, with the International of Marx in its time. We are bound, naturally, by ties of open moral solidarity to Grynszpan and not to his “democratic” jailers, or the Stalinist slanders who need Grynszpan’s corpse to prop up, even if only partially and indirectly, the verdicts of Moscow justice.

Kremlin diplomacy, degenerated to its marrow, attempts at the same time to utilise this “happy” incident to renew their machinations for an international agreement among various governments, including that of Hitler and Mussolini, for a mutual extradition of terrorists.

Beware, masters of fraud! The application of such a law will necessitate the immediate deliverance of Stalin to at least a dozen foreign governments.

The Stalinists shriek in the ears of the police that Grynszpan attended “meetings of Trotskyists”. That, unfortunately, is not true. For had he walked into the milieu of the Fourth International he would have discovered a different and more effective outlet for his revolutionary energy.

People come cheap who are capable of only fulminating against injustice and bestiality. But those who, like Grynszpan, are able to act as well as conceive, sacrificing their own lives if need be, are the precious leaven [raising agent] of mankind.

In the moral sense, although not for his own mode of action, Grynszpan may serve as an example for every young revolutionist.

Our open moral solidarity with Grynszpan gives us an added right to say to all other would-be Grynszpans, to all those capable of self-sacrifice in the struggle against despotism and bestiality: Seek another road!

Not the lone avenger but only a great revolutionary mass movement can free the oppressed, a movement that will leave no remnant of the entire structure of class exploitation, national oppression, and racial persecution.

The unprecedented crimes of fascism create a yearning for vengeance that is wholly justifiable. But so monstrous is the scope of their crimes, that this yearning cannot be satisfied by the assassination of isolated fascist bureaucrats. For that it is necessary to set in motion millions, tens and hundreds of millions of the oppressed throughout the world and lead them in the assault upon the strongholds of the old society.

Only the overthrow of all forms of slavery, only the complete destruction of fascism, only the people sitting in merciless judgement over the contemporary bandits and gangsters can provide real satisfaction to the indignation of the people.

This is precisely the task the Fourth International has set itself. It will cleanse the labour movement of the plague of Stalinism. It will rally in its ranks the heroic generation of the youth. It will cut a path to a worthier and a more humane future.

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